The 2020 Challenge was a climb that members took on with pride as well some who unknowingly inspired others and helped to build the hobby into the future. As we look forward to 2021 we are happy to spotlight the top recruiters of 2020 and share their story of recruiting members to the APS.
APS Development Assistant Erin Seamans had the opportunity to speak with 2020 Top Recruiter, Alex Haimann about his time inspiring individuals to join the APS membership. Alex Haimann currently serves as Chair of the Campaign for Philately Committee and is the former Chair on the Board of Vice Presidents at APS. He continues to be a major supporter of the Young Philatelic Fellowship Leaders program. Alex is also a member of United States Stamp Society, Collectors Club of New York and Royal Philatelic Society London.
Read the full interview below.
Erin: When did you start collecting stamps? Who introduced you to stamp collecting?
Alex: My father collected stamps as a kid and I didn't know that when I was first introduced to stamp collecting. A second-grade teacher, when I was about 7 years old, brought stamps into our class that were meant to be a part of a geography lesson and I remember it like it was yesterday. Having these seemingly weightless pieces of paper but each being from a different place in the palm of my hand left me entranced. I thought it was the greatest, coolest thing to be able to hold a little piece of so many different countries all at the same time. It wasn’t just having one stamp but having ten and there they all were. When I got home I brought a few of the stamps I had gotten and went to the mail and started pulling stamps off the mail that came in that day. Then during that time my father was able to find his childhood collection and brought that out which was great. It snow-balled from there. So, I was introduced by my second-grade teacher but heavily facilitated by my father having a connection to it also. From there on I began going to a stamp store in the metro-Detroit area where I grew up, incredibly that stamp dealer is still there and one of the last remaining ones in the area and turned90 this year. His son took over the business so I will go back and visit when I am back in the area visiting my parents. So, it still connects me to that moment when I was 7/8 years old when I would go to the stamp store.
Erin: Similar to a lot of other people’s experiences you were introduced to the hobby at an early age and it really did stick with you, no pun intended. And so, it goes back to keeping in mind that talking to young people about collecting is important. I’m curious though, when did you start thinking that being part of an organization would be helpful to develop your hobby?
Alex: So, April of 1994 I went to my very first stamp show which was in Michigan. We had probably learned about it through an interaction with our local stamp store. The club that sponsored the show, the West Suburban Stamp Club, met on Friday evenings which was ideal since that was on a non-school night, so we joined that club. Seeing the organization of a show and knowing there were clubs that were related to these shows happened to hit me all at the same time.The best part of stamp collecting is the hunt, search, journey to find the thing to collect and knowledge which can be solitary by choice. There is also a big social aspect of it that is learning, sharing, engaging. Many of the things that I collect came from inspiration talking with other collectors. I saw the value of people and how peoples’ influence on me would also propel my learning from them to expand my interest. I became very interested in how I could meet more people, how were they meeting one another and being a part of the group.
Erin: A huge portion of the stamp collecting community is very social and we don't get to see it or hear about it sometimes, so I’m glad you are sharing the ways in which recruiting is another social aspect of the hobby. The big question I want to ask is who recruited you?
Alex: I think what happened was that we got a magazine at a club meeting or show, and I filled out the application and sent away for it when I was 10 years old, so my father cosigned for the membership. This interview is very well timed as well because I'm just about to celebrate my 25-year anniversary of becoming an APS member. I'm certain I was recruited because of people in the stamp club encouraging me to join and showing me how to join.
Erin: It goes back to the heart of what you've been sharing is the social aspect and bringing people in your community. So why have you been a member for so many years and what is keeping you a member?
Alex: This answer is going to seem kind of strange, but I'm going to call it philatelic patriotism. I'm an American and as an American philatelist that I owed a loyalty, responsibility, passion, excitement to a broader hobby that is supported by a national organization. Not to mention I wanted to be a part of the national organization. I became a lifetime member of the APS when I was 18 years old. The reason was that I wanted to be able to say that I was a life member and I wanted that cred. I saved up money from a job that I had in the summer of high school before I went to college. Also, it might seem silly but the worrying about re upping my membership dues and saving myself each year from forgetting was a benefit. I just felt that the APS was worth supporting and emotionally it supported stamp clubs and local shows.
Erin: You really do have quite a unique experience becoming a life member at the age of 18 and that answers a big reason of why you have stuck with APS for so long. I’m more curious about how your membership at APS helps with your ongoing collecting experience?
Alex: The most consistent benefit of APS for me through my lifetime membership is Great American Stamp Show and for everything that the show has to offer. I would go as far to say that if you’re an APS member and never been to a show you need to make it a priority. I have used almost every single service of the APS to test them, I've read and written for the AP, I've used the expertizing service and currently using it. I've come on site to the APC and used the library in person, attended summer seminar, submitted things to circuit sales. So, I’ve used these services and enjoyed most of them.
Erin: So, what I have gathered, you have used the most out of your membership and goes as far to say that you have experienced so much of what a membership can give that you are an ideal recruiter to share what APS membership is all about. So, let me then ask you why are you a recruiter?
Alex: I began recruiting members sometime around 2006, but for the first 10 years I was a member I was more of an advocate and would share my story of becoming a member/collector. I never thought about being a recruiter and realizing the impact. So, I worked for several years in a role at Mystic Stamp Company, owned and run by Don Sundman. I always had noticed in the AP April recognition issue the top 10 recruiters and everyone else that recruited someone. I know that it inspired me, and I know it inspired others. I remember from when I was kid until today that Don had always been a top recruiter every year. So, when I got involved working with Don in 2006, I saw how much he supported the hobby and continues to support the hobby and this was endlessly inspiring to me. I decided in 2006/2007 that the one thing I could attempt to match his engagement at the APS was to see if I could get onto the top 10 recruiters list. My goal in 2007 was to be number two in the list and I met that goal. When I hit number two and mind you I was still so far behind him and each year I see it as a personal challenge to continue. Don's my hero and he's my number one inspiration for recruitment and in some respects, I want to be number 10 one day in the hopes that others will be inspired to recruit and get a head of me. I even remember when Don was given a special award called the 50 Centuries award for his 5,000th member recruited, and I just look forward to one day when I meet my 1,000th member recruited as a personal goal. My total for 2021 so far is 105 sponsored members and my lifetime goal is to recruit a total of 548 members.
Erin: I love hearing about your experience of being inspired, creating personal goals, having a fun competition and at the end of the day it’s all for the sake of the hobby. So, after your hitting the top numbers of people recruited, you shared that people are seeking you out for advice for recruiting. Some advice I think that would be great to share is who are the people your recruiting, where are you recruiting and how has it become such a success?
Alex: For at least 10 years I’ve been selling stamps online on eBay and Hipstamp so initially we would send notes with their purchases but there wasn't much take up. So, then I partnered with the APS by taking the list of people that bought items from us and provide the information to the APS to be run through the database to see which of those people were APS members. Of those that were not, the list would be broken down more about their connection with APS and which were totally unknown. What I have learned through this process a third or more were unknown to APS. I then put my money where my mouth was and spent some money every year to offer to those that bought from me, a gift of an APS membership. That has been the main mechanism that I have used and this year with the online application has been a great help. My encouragement to those who are reading this, if you are selling stamps online or know someone who is, consider sharing your list of people who are sending to APS to improve the prospect list. The great opportunity of recruiting APS new members is exclusively online.
Erin: Can you please share a special recruitment story with us.
Alex: There are multiple young people that I have recruited at shows. If there’s a young person age 10 to 20 years old sitting at a table and looking clearly very interested in philately and spending time at the show I always try to approach the young person, parent and share an interest in their collection and ask if they are an APS member. I have always offered to gift them a year membership with no strings attached. I then share my story of when I started collecting, becoming a member, etc. I've probably done that 20 or 30 times.
Erin: What I'm hearing you say is that you are aware and seeing opportunities to engage with someone interested in the hobby, taken advantage of the opportunity, take the time to invest in them. Your showing that recruiting takes time and effort and it's not just a quick fix to invest in someone. You are taking a personal interest to build membership.
Alex: My feeling is that anyone that loves this hobby and has found it to be impactful in their lives and happens to be an APS member. If being a member has meant something to them, if you care about the longevity of the hobby and others enjoying the hobby for decades to come its worth putting your time where that desire is, it’s worth putting money where that is. It's all about building a base of members through recruitment, no matter the age. Anyone that shares the passion, that is a person you should make an appeal to. My way of giving back is help enlarge the community and grow its resources.
Erin: Do you have any advice for potential recruiters in 2021?
Alex: I would say if you have any social media presence what-so ever, email list, find opportunities to share content from the APS that is producing. Share it with your community, friends, Facebook whatever platform you use and when you share make sure to include a comment about membership and why you enjoy it. Put some thoughtful prompt to tickle the interest to draw people in and remind them you are a part of an organization that is a part of what your sharing. If you want to go another step further, it would be to encourage someone who is interested to message you back. Basically, my advice would be to be more open to dropping the offer to connect and maybe they might just come to you if you leave enough “breadcrumbs” along the philatelic hobby path.